Sleep medicines do not improve sleep disturbances in the long term, study suggests

Researchers found no self-reported differences in sleep quality or duration between sleep medicine users and non-users after following them up at one and two years.
woman insomnia

Long-term use of sleep medicines is not associated with a reduction in sleep disturbances in middle-aged women, an observational study in the BMJ has suggested (11 May 2021)​[1]​

The researchers matched 238 women who had started taking sleep medicines (including benzodiazepines, Z-drugs and other hypnotics) with 447 non-users, and compared the level of self-reported sleep disturbances at one year and two years of follow-up. Sleep disturbances included difficultly initiating sleep; waking frequently; and early morning awakening.

Individuals rated each disturbance by way of a five-point scale, ranging from no difficulty on any night (1) to difficulty on 5 or more nights of the week (5).

Overall, the researchers found no self-reported differences in sleep quality or duration at one or two years of follow-up when comparing sleep medicine users with non-users.

In both groups, women reported difficulty initiating sleep on around a third of nights, waking frequently on around two-thirds of nights and early morning awakenings on approximately a third of nights during the week. More than 70% of women in both groups reported a sleep disturbance at least three times weekly.

“While there are good data from randomised controlled trials that these medications improve sleep disturbances in the short term, the results we present here represent some of the only data on these medications’ long-term impact on sleep,” the authors concluded.  

They added that prescribers starting patients on these medicines should highlight the “scant” evidence of their benefit beyond several months.

  1. 1
    Solomon DH, Ruppert K, Habel LA, et al. Prescription medications for sleep disturbances among midlife women during 2 years of follow-up: a SWAN retrospective cohort study. BMJ Open 2021;11:e045074. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2020-045074
Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, May 2021, Vol 306, No 7949;306(7949)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.86236

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